Community centre calls for clarity over remaining Hampstead BID funds

Pictured from left: Hampstead Community Centre's Richard Weaver, Chris Knight, and Dan Brooks

Pictured from left: Hampstead Community Centre's Richard Weaver, Chris Knight, and Dan Brooks - Credit: Polly Hancock

Hampstead Community Centre has urged greater transparency from the outgoing business improvement district (BID) over its outstanding funds – and any refunds to be issued “immediately”. 

On May 28 the Hampstead BID announced it will dissolve, after pulling out of a ballot of local traders that was set to decide whether it would be reinstated for another five years.  

Since the surprise U-turn, no details have been published by the BID about how much is left in its coffers, and how payers of the levy – including local businesses, charities, New End Primary School and Keats Group Practice – will be reimbursed.

One of these organisations, Hampstead Community Centre, said refunds needed to be issued “straight away”, but the BID said further discussions with its board were required first.

The community centre’s chair of trustees, Chris Knight, told the Ham&High: “It’s quite clear that we need to know exactly how the spending has been made from the levy that they have charged.  

“It’s important that what's left is distributed back to those organisations which were charged in the first place.” 

Echoing this call, Cllr Stephen Stark (Con, Hampstead Town) said: “I think we need to have openness and transparency.  

“We need to see what's in the accounts, what's been spent and what has been carried forward (in reserves).” 

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The BID, introduced in 2016 following a ballot, was designed to improve local trading conditions, using a levy charged to businesses for schemes such as PR, Christmas lights and hanging floral baskets.  

But the compulsory levy divided the business community – with the landlord of the King William IV pub losing a legal challenge against paying the charge in February 2020.   

Now, announcing that it will wind up by the end of July, the BID said that it is “not appropriate” to add further overheads upon traders struggling to recover from the pandemic.

Attention has since turned to who or what will take on the mantle of the BID in representing the interests of the local business community. 

Hampstead Village Voice editor Sebastian Wocker is among those advocate a return to having a volunteer-led business association, as was in place in NW3 before the BID – but no progress has yet been made on this front.

Hampstead traders rip up their Vote No To BID posters

Hampstead campaigners and traders rip up their Vote No To BID posters - Credit: Polly Hancock

Andrew Haslam-Jones, chair of the Heath and Hampstead Society’s town sub-committee, said: “Given that the business people who were most willing to provide their time in a voluntary capacity prior to the BID were most likely to have been involved in the BID and they may be feeling a bit disheartened with the demise of the BID, it's difficult to see where the impetus will come from for a business organisation in the short term.” 

Having been involved in Hampstead’s previous business association, Chris acknowledged the difficulties of organising and financing a volunteer-led group.  

He said the “ideal” solution would be to create a new voluntary association with a “good dollop” of funding from the Community Infrastructure Levy, which the council can spend on local projects.  

Pictured from left: Hampstead Community Centre's Chris Knight, Dan Brooks and Richard Weaver outside the Tube station

Pictured from left: Hampstead Community Centre's Chris Knight, Dan Brooks and Richard Weaver outside the Tube station - Credit: Polly Hancock

Cllr Danny Beales, Camden Council’s cabinet member for investing in communities, said there is currently £304,671 of unallocated CIL funding available for the Hampstead Town ward – and that this could be spent on projects such as greening or improving the high street, or adding “streateries” (shared outdoor dining areas).   

Adding that Camden would support any voluntary business association if established, the council, which collected the BID levy on its behalf, said it was awaiting instructions from the outgoing organisation over the amount and timing of refunds.

A spokesperson for the Hampstead BID said it would provide an update following further discussions of its board.  

When the BID announced its dissolution, a spokesperson said: “The impact of the pandemic was reflected in the feedback received in the Perception Analysis, and following consultation with the business community, the Hampstead Village BID Board agreed now is not the right time for the BID to continue.  

“It is felt that adding further overheads to local businesses struggling to recover from the global pandemic is not appropriate at the moment."